[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
Last Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spent three hours with a few dozen journalists to give an overview of his much-debated strategic vision. The press, naturally, captured the newsiest lines: Turkey was willing to mend ties with Israel, and Ankara was willing to continue to work with Tehran to find a solution to the latter’s nuclear crisis.
The deeper side of Davutoğlu’s “strategic depth,” however, was in his remarks about the international system. Criticizing the “injustices and inequalities” within global politics, he said Turkey was willing to help formulate a better world. Noting that Turkey is often positioned between the East and the West, Davutoğlu added that now it will also work to help on issues between the north and the south.
‘Conscience of the system’
The latter term, of course, refers to the poorer countries of the world. A clear indication of Turkey’s aspirations on that front was its new leading role at the United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries, which will hold its next summit in Istanbul next May. At the meeting, a 10-year action plan will be formulated, and Turkey will probably undertake new engagements in Africa and elsewhere. The ultimate goal, said Davutoğlu, will be to help underdeveloped countries “raise their voice” and to make Turkey “the conscience of the international system.”
In other words, you might soon start to read anxious commentaries arguing that Turkey is “turning its face from the north,” and opting for the south. Yet another dangerous “axis shift,” you might hear, is in the making.
Seeing that risk, Davutoğlu said this engagement with the Third World should not be seen as “Third Worldism” – the lefty current of the Cold War era, which romanticized the underdeveloped countries and sided with them against the so-called First World.
The nuance here is worth pondering. The modern global order, which is mainly an Anglo-Saxon (first British and then American) invention, is based on principles such as international law, free trade and human rights. Historian Walter Russell Mead aptly puts it as a “liberal, capitalist, and democratic world system.” And, defined as such, the Turkey that Davutoğlu represents has zero problems with that system – it even tries to advance it in its own part of the world.
But the principles of the world system is one thing, the interests and the biases of its masters is another one. With regards to the latter, we can sometimes find the those masters applying double standards to the rules of their own making – such as the United States’ customary vetoes of any U.N. Security Council resolution that forces Israel to respect international law. And Turkey does have problems with those injustices, which, in the words of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, seem to replace “the supremacy of law,” with “the law of the superiors.”
We can find the echoes of that justice-oriented thought in the words of not just Davutoğlu but also other architects of Turkey’s new foreign policy. In a recent article, İbrahim Kalın, a senior advisor to the prime minister, a post that Davutoğlu used to occupy, said, “Turkey’s new actors… demand that the global center-periphery relations turn more democratic and fair.” He emphasizes the role of “political legitimacy” in any global system and argues the current one suffers from a deficit of legitimacy.
A new narrative
Both Davutoğlu and Kalın seem to see the matter in not just political but philosophical terms. Kalın notes that “the Euro-centric conception of history and society… based on the Enlightenment and the French Revolution” is losing its dominance. A new “narrative” is emerging, which is global rather than West-centric, and which demands a less hierarchical world. The “new Turkish narrative” with its success via “soft power,” Kalın adds, should be seen as a beacon of these global aspirations.
Hearing these arguments, I couldn’t help recalling the WikiLeaks cable that referred to Davutoğlu as an “extremely dangerous” ideologue that was reformulating Turkish foreign policy in dangerous ways. The “danger,” I guess, is not totally imaginary, but is valid for only two opposing forces:
It is dangerous for those Western (especially American) policy-makers who believe that a “clash of civilizations” has already begun and that the West should use all its power — hard and soft — to fight against an “axis of evil.” Seeing zero problems in their own policies, and putting the whole blame on others, these self-righteous Westerners wish to see countries such as Turkey as loyal yes-men, which will simply be on their side at all times.
On the other hand, Turkey’s new direction is also dangerous for the Osama Bin Ladens of the world, who wish to exploit the grievances against the West in order to launch a global anti-Western crusade. Turkey blurs their black-and-white picture, and tries to solve the troubles they capitalize upon.
For the rest of us, I believe, Davutoğlu’s vision should be more reassuring. Its prospects are debatable, but its goals seem to be clear: the building of a more just and peaceful world.